I grew up in rural Illinois on two acres of former farmland, surrounded by many more acres of actively farmed corn and soybeans. Our house stood on one of the two acres. On this acre, my dad cut the grass, and my mom planted flowers. On this acre we had a swing set and played baseball. The other acre, we left wild. Occasionally, we’d cut paths through it, but it was generally left alone to return to its roots as part of the Illinois prairie. This “other acre” was a place of danger (ticks, snakes) and magic (an imaginary rainforest, a rare place for solitude.)
Granted, in Southern Illinois, we weren’t short on space. We had the luxury of land and sky, allowing us to live on a manicured lawn with a garden and still protect a bit of wildness next door. Given half the space, would we have allowed the same ratio of chaos to order? I doubt it.
But with less of it around, it would have been even more important to protect the wildness.
Nowadays the farmland where I grew up looks more like a subdivision – or so I hear. The “other acre” is long gone, and the prairie is only visible as a thin strip of Cornflowers and Queen Ann’s Lace at the side of the road. But that’s the thing about weeds: they find somewhere to grow.
We need these cracks of wilderness. We need fissures, if not fields, of wild spaces and wild ideas. We need them even more urgently as they become scarcer. Sure, most of us choose to live in relative order. We choose (as much as we are able) to live in comfort and comfort is not a bad thing – unless it is the only thing.
Even as you plant your garden, leave some space for the weeds.